MOSCOW (MRC) -- On a tiny island off Brunei's northern tip on the South China Sea, thousands of Chinese workers are building a refinery and petrochemical complex, along with a bridge connecting it to the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, as per Hydrocarbonprocessing.
When completed, the first phase of the USD3.4 billion complex on Muara Besar island, run by China's Hengyi Group, will be Brunei's largest-ever foreign investment project, and comes at a time when the oil-dependent country needs it the most.
Brunei’s oil and gas reserves are expected to run out within two decades. As production falls, oil firms won't be investing much into existing facilities, further hampering output, oil analysts say. As a result, the country’s oil revenues, which provide virtually all of Brunei’s government spending, are in steady decline.
With youth unemployment rising, Brunei's ruler, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, is trying to quickly reform the economy and diversify its sources of income, while fighting graft and cracking down on dissent.
Brunei's changing fortunes have been reflected in its financial industry. HSBC pulled out of Brunei last year, while Citibank exited in 2014 after 41 years. Bank of China, meanwhile, opened its first branch in the sultanate in December 2016.
The Muara Besar project is promising over 10,000 jobs, at least half of which would go to fresh graduates, media reports in Brunei said. But claims that thousands of Chinese workers have been shipped in to build the complex has angered some local residents.
Hengyi Industries, the local company building the refinery, did not respond to requests for comment. The company, founded in 2011 and based in Bandar Seri Begawan, expects to complete the first phase of the refinery and petrochemical complex on Muara Besar by the end of the year, according to its website.
A USD12 billion second phase will expand the refinery capacity to 281,150 barrels per day, and build units to produce 1.5 MMtpy of ethylene and 2 MMtpy of paraxylene, the company said last month.
Total Chinese investment in Brunei is now estimated at USD4.1 billion, according to the American Enterprise Institute's China Global investment tracker.
That will almost certainly rise as China ramps its "Belt and Road" initiative. Sometimes called the "21st Century Maritime Silk Road, it envisages linking China with Southeast Asia, Africa and Eurasia through a complex network of ports, roads, railways and industrial parks.
"Brunei is an important country along the 21st century Maritime Silk Road," China's Ambassador to Brunei Yang Jian said at the opening ceremony in February 2017 for a joint venture, running Brunei's largest container terminal.